DENVER -- This week here, there is the convention at the Pepsi Center -- the five-tier, 15,000-seat, Secret Service-guarded sports arena where 6000 delegates will hammer out the party platform during the day and Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden will speak in the evening.
Then there is the convention at the Big Tent -- a two-story, canvas-sided, eco-friendly makeshift structure where 700 bloggers, independent media, sponsors, and non-profit representatives will get online, write, post, lounge, snack, drink free beer, deliberate, do yoga and, thanks to the Huffington Post's own "Oasis," enjoy mini-facials and hand massages.
Given the number of people clamoring for passes, the Big Tent would seem to be the main event this week and the Pepsi Center the sideshow -- perhaps the final indication that the center of power in the Democratic party has shifted from the establishment to the grassroots and online activists.
The idea for the Big Tent came from Bobby Clark, who'd worked on Howard Dean's presidential campaign and is now the National Executive Director of ProgressNow, a website started in Denver that organizes progressives to take political action. (And, full disclosure, a good friend of mine.) Bloggers, he realized, would need a place to go at the convention, where press access is restricted to those with credentials and where wireless access is limited.
With sponsorship from Google and Digg, among others, the Big Tent expanded to offer a lounge, a stage where speakers could address audiences of up to 350, breakout rooms for smaller gatherings, free lunch and dinner, a beer garden with an open tap, morning yoga, and a spa. A convention and media center in one, the Big Tent went up in two weeks and offers more wireless portals than the Denver Airport.
In messages and on the streets in Denver the last few days, alt media people have told each other they'd meet at the Big Tent. Many have been collaborating online for months, if not years, and the Big Tent will be their opportunity to meet for the first time face-to-face. Mainstream media, too, is seeking to get in on the action. CNN will be filming there this week, and representatives from organizations too late, too skeptical, or too cheap to pay the $100 entrance fee are now offering to buy or asking to share passes.
The best-case scenario may be that the Big Tent brings more people into politics by giving them more access to media and to each other. The worst-case scenario may be that the Big Tent, which includes a VIP blogger lounge, is a victim of its own success, substituting one exclusive political culture for another.
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